30 October 2005

Genesis & בראשית (Heb., lit.: "In a beginning")

This past shabbas was, of course, the first shabbas of the year and as we now read the Torah a full go every year, we start back at the beginning. Until last year, I had always synthesized what we read in the first however-many chapters there are in the first book of the Bible with what we know scientifically. However, it is a little difficult. Furthermore, I had been clued in last year that a lot of the stuff in the beginning is not necessarily 'history' as we understand it now, but rather it is trying to relate the fabulas going on in stories (story vs. fabula distinction) in order to relate moral lessons for us.
In the days leading up to shabbas and especially as the reading of the Torah was being performed on Saturday morning, I was utterly struck by what I was reading, mainly by the word choice as well as ideas. I understood, by reading it, that the creation story was very carefully constructed as well as the ages of the various people, which clearly has to be done very specifically. In any event, I was having trouble with understanding the beginning, in general.
Fortunately, my puzzlement after the reading of the Torah was short-lived as Rabbi Schnaidman (of Mt. Sinai, my new shul) spoke, in no uncertain terms, that the story of the creation of the universe is not meant to be scientific. Furthermore, he said, that we're not supposed to try to reconcile it with science as that's not what it's meant to do. He relied heavily on Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed, book 2, chapter 25 to support what he was saying about science and the Torah. I found the speech very interesting and helpful. This was my most-liked speech of his so far (my previous favorite was his eulogy of Yasir Arafat where he described ten good things about his death).
Granted, I haven't heard a lot of his sermons, as he didn't speak in the summer, and I usually don't make it up for shul on shabbas mornings, but this shabbas I had set my alarm to wake me up - and it did. I felt kind of bad for myself that I wasn't allowing myself all the sleep that I needed, which is definitely not a very restful way of spending shabbat, but it was better feeling for me to have attended services from close to the beginning and not come just for the schmoozing. (which is definitely a highlight for me)


Jewminican said...

My co-worker Chana was my parsha teacher because I had Shabbat lunch at her house. It was almost ironic to have a Science teacher going over creation with me. I'm not sure whose commentary I agree with (Rashi or Rambam) but I think what was most fun was realizing how complicated the parsha was. I'm an English teacher but even I had to think more deeply about word choice than I usually do.

Shaya said...

just wondering, how serious of a post is this? having a hard time reading it in your voice.

Drew_Kaplan said...

It is certainly very amazing reading it at all of the literary devices - it makes me want to know literary stuff so that I can better appreciate it.

Although I am quite prone in conversation to employ sarcasm, on my blog I'm less so - if anything, it's due to the lack of voice inflection. However, what might be throwing you (and, perhaps, others) off is how lightly I dealt with such a deep topic. Perhaps I could have gone through various aspects of the rabbi's speech or various of my approaches to understanding the text(s), but I'll leave the post as is for now.

Lab Rab said...

Yeah, I also was wondering if you could share a bit more of the Rabbi's drasha . . . you usually make crisper points.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Rabbi Schnaidman sermon is still the one where he got very very angry at FEMA and Bush for failing to anticipate New Orleans.

Of course the best clarification I ever heard for Bible vs. Scientific theorizing was from a Geology teacher in college who said "we are asking different questions. We aren't asking WHY anything happened? That's not our job. That's for the religions and philosophies. We are asking HOW it happened. Science has no business getting involved in G-d controversies" - although the last part is my addition, but HOW vs. WHY is a great way of arguing with the baseless assertion that Science says anything about Evolution being random and without divine intervention (or that Divine Intervention has any business in a science class room)

Oh yeah - if you ever get a livejournal, definitely cross post this stuff to http://www.livejournal.com/~weirdjews2

-- Tim

Mar Gavriel said...

Isn't this what Godol would call the "Myth/Moshol" theory.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Lab Rab,
R' Schnaidman began by speaking about how one chooses sermon topics, offering some options, but saying how we wanted to speak specifically against one view out there. He then brought up the particularistic view of רש"י and the more universalistic view of רמב"ן on the beginning of the Torah and noted the interestingness of that discussion. Then he launched into the meat of his sermon, speaking upon, as I stated in my posting, how the beginning of the Torah is not to be taken literally, as it may cause problems with those who know science, etc., including carbon dating, etc. That whenever science may contradict the Torah, we should go with science. He backed this up with Maimonides' (Moreh Nevukhim, book 2, ch. 25) assertion about adopting science when proved to be so and that this holds in any situation where the Torah and science are in conflict. He stated all of this in no uncertain terms, stating so very strongly. Unfortunate was his apologetics afterward, saying if anybody had issues with his sermon, they could speak with him at סעודה שלישית.

(Mar) Rav Gavriel,
Much thanks for that reference. That's what it was, though Rabbi Schnaidman was speking in more layman's terms. I definitely like what the Godol has to say. thanks

Lab Rab said...

Thanks Drew. Pretty forceful words. I generally agree. Though R. Schnaidman still needs to work out a proper reading of those verses that seem to contradict his Maimonidean inviolable sciences.